(and my challenge to you)
We’ve all heard that Kansas City is awesome. It’s not just because of the Royals, BBQ or Google Fiber. Around the world, people are looking at Kansas City because, for the most part, we’re a city getting it right.
I already know that Kansas City is the best place to live, work and play but my Kansas City Pride is something I had to discover. I’m not from Kansas (or Missouri). I didn’t even grow up in the United States. My wife and I chose to live Kansas City and we stay here because we love it.
Why do we love it?
Kansas City is rich with entrepreneurship, vision, commerce, food & drink, the arts, affordable living, revitalization and community.
That sounds great, but what does it really mean?
I just found out.
Yesterday, together with LiveKC, I got out there for a day of urban spelunking. Today I’m a little more intimately acquainted with Kansas City and the reasons I love living here.
The first stop on this cold Wednesday Morning was 1 Million Cups at the Kauffman Foundation. 1 Million Cups is an educational program for the startup community.
Every Wednesday morning, two real people stand up and talk about a project or company they are working on and how the community can help.
It’s about the community of entrepreneurs
Both of the companies that presented this week have incredible potential to make noticeable change in the world.
Panda Boxes have a real solution to make moving home suck a little less, and the Red Dirt Shop are running a for-profit business so they can offer hand ups (not hand outs) to people without water.
Some were quick to compare 1 Million Cups to SharkTank and while the format is similar in that there’s a presentation followed by Q&A with a panel of business experts before questions are opened up to the public, that’s where I see the similarity ending.
I see this as a community-wide brainstorming session where the community asks the presenter one key question.
“What can we do for you?”
That’s the question that allows businesses and communities to thrive.
By nature, we’re a little obsessed with the future. We want life to be smarter, faster and richer. There are two things that will aid that vision
- Making people meet each other by increasing population density and “creating collisions”. (Additional Reading: Triumph of a City by Edward Glaeser)
- Building a Smarter City.
Think Big are actively working on both. We met with Blake Miller and Tyler Prochnow and heard how they are living breathing this vision.
In the coming months, Think Big will move to new office space. It’s located on the street car line, fitted with Google Fiber, a coffee and cocktail bar and will offer, among other things, co-working space.
These aren’t just pleasant amenities. These are intentional features that will bring together the entrepreneurial community that, just five years ago, was fragmented. Today, Kansas City has an ecosystem for entrepreneurship and community with a vision.
Think Big are also making the city smarter. I believe they were instrumental in Cisco’s decision to build their next Smart City right here in KC.
Connecting Kansas City to The Internet Of Things isn’t just about saving the city money on energy expenses. It’s about making life better for every citizen and resident.
The first step is to make WiFi available throughout the city. That’s already started with Union Station becoming completely connected. With time, data will become available and entrepreneurs will begin to imagine the possibilities.
It’s home-automation on steroids… the possibilities are limitless. The vision of a smarter city is already coming to life.
There are some cities in America who really understand the importance of commerce and the impact it has on urban development. I believe Portland, OR has an initiative that requires all new construction in the downtown area to dedicate the bottom 30 feet to retail space.
Once again, this creates population density at the ground level and allows people to live and conduct business on the upper levels.
Commerce is important, not only to fuel the economy, but bars, restaurants and stores increase the likelihood of people meeting each other.
Halls have been trading since 1916 and understand the importance of relationships. Last year, made the decision to close their store on the Plaza and move to Crown Center, perhaps an often over-looked place to meet and greet.
You’re probably thinking what I was thinking. Halls caters to a wealthier, older demographic. That’s still true, but in opening their new store, they are focusing on becoming a one-stop location for style at various price points.
They’ve dedicated the space that crosses Grand Boulevard as “The Bridge” where their team focus on products for a younger generation of shoppers. Their in-store coffee shop offers local coffee from The Roasterie as well as wifi and plenty of outlets to charge your tablet or cellphone. The bar is void of large steel appliances so it’s easy to talk to the staff while they make your drinks and I am told their lunch menu is very popular.
Not only are Halls aware that there’s a whole new audience they want to connect with, they seem eager to engage with the community and find out how.
4. Food and Drink
Food and drink can create connection like none other. I could write about food all day (and sometimes I do). One of the reasons I connect with food, is because of the way it can build community.
When people believe that Mildred’s make the best Breakfast Sandwich in the world, they will tell each other. When I find a great cocktail or scotch, I go back for another with friends.
When people enjoy a great meal, they remember it.
Celina Tio’s Collection is a place that for people to enjoy great food. The tastefully decorated restaurant that welcomes you in from the street is just half of what you’ll find at 1532 Grand Blvd.
Slip to the back of Collection and you’ll find The Belfry, home to the finest beer and bourbon I have ever seen in Kansas City.
This isn’t just another cool bar. When you walk in, you feel like you’ve walked into your friend’s lounge. Celina’s lounge. And the selection of bourbon and beer on offer is the bourbon and beer she enjoys herself.
I sampled the Small Batch Templeton Rye and was very pleased. I can see myself going back to The Belfry for a happy hour with friends or date night with my wife.
5. The Arts
Don’t roll your eyes. You’re expecting to read three paragraphs about the beauty of the Kauffman Center, the diversity of the Crossroads or the stature of the Nelson Atkins Museum.
While it’s true that these are some of the pillars of the Kansas City Arts Community, I’m going to talk about something I had never heard of.
These guys are awesome! You know those performers that dance up and down 300 foot silk ribbons without falling to the ground? They practice right here in Kansas City.
What’s more, Quixotic are the folks that turned the front of Union Station into an interactive projection for the Centennial just a few weeks ago.
Their projection mapping technology transformed the Kauffman Center into a canvas for their projection mapped show on opening night and I don’t think there’s anything in the realm of dance and entertainment that they can not offer.
The Quixotic team travel around the world producing and performing to create breathtaking projection-mapped, performances that combine dance, unrivaled animation and storytelling.
When we asked if they’d ever considered moving elsewhere, the answer was straight forward.
“All the talent is here, there’s no reason to leave unless we are performing. And every time we do, we represent Kansas City!”
6. Affordable Living
Cost of living is something that weighs on the minds of many of my friends. Whether they live in London, Jerusalem, Sydney, New York, or Los Angeles, the cost of property is driving the dream of home ownership away from many people.
Kansas City offers a wide range of living options to suit every family situation and budget. The neighborhood I live in has been recognized more than once for having a favorable cost of living.
For people looking to live downtown, there’s no shortage of old and new construction to rent or buy.
OneLight are opening their first of five new luxury apartment towers when tenants move in in October 2015 and their wait-list for this building exceeds capacity by 300%.
It will also be the first apartment complex in the country that is built with complete Google Fiber integration from the ground up. Each unit will include the free basic Google Fiber package, and the club level, lounge and pool will offer residents free Fiber wifi too.
With plans to offer food demos, events at the rooftop pool, free OneLife fitness membership and grocery delivery, OneLight are planning to do more than change the Kansas City Skyline. They are investing in a new generation of downtown living.
You might see the word luxury and wonder how it can be affordable, but take a moment to compare the rent to other major downtown neighborhoods.
The East Bottoms is rich in history. It was home to the Heim Brewery which was a major Kansas City employer in the 1900s. Adjacent to their brewery they built Electric Park, which later inspired Walt Disney to open theme parks of his own.
When the brewery closed it’s doors, hundreds of people were out of work and in the years that followed, prohibition meant other companies fell victim too. The East Bottoms became desolate, forgotten by people and government, but now, that’s all changing.
After being killed by prohibition, J. Rieger & Co. is opening for business once again.
Andy Rieger, triple Great-Grandson of J. Rieger, is the new tenant of the former Heim Brewery, and he’s revitalized his family’s company. There’s a full and rich history to the J. Rieger & Co. brand and it’s signature Kansas City Whiskey is just the first step in it’s revitalization.
Surrounded by Knuckleheads and Pigwich and Urban Provisions, there’s the start of something new. The vision of neighborhood businesses collaborating with other to create a community is very real.
There was one word that was used by every person we met during our Kansas City Field Trip. Community.
Throughout the day, we met people who focus on different things to make Kansas City a better place, and at the heart of it all, was a sense of belonging, a sense of community.
As we got on and off of that bus all day, our community grew stronger as we saw the future that we can build. The city planners, the policy makers and the companies are all listening. They want to hear what the community wants because success benefits everyone.
Community gives people a sense of belonging. It’s nice to share knowledge and experiences with like-minded people and Kansas City has communities of technologists, entrepreneurs, marketers, dancers, millennials, artists, chefs, musicians and families who all see a bright future.
It feels good to be in Kansas City.
The last stop of the day was The Foundry where we shared a round of beers and talked about what we’d learned about the place we’d called home. We’ve got a great city here with a community out there working hard to make it even better for everybody. And you are part of it.
My challenge to you.
Get out. Go discover your city. You don’t need a bus and 25 other people; just spend a day living in your city. Come up with 8 reasons you love where you live let me know why with a response of your own. If you enjoyed this article, let me know by following me on Twitter.
8 Reasons I Love Kansas City was originally published in The LiveKC Collection on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.